REVIEW: WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951)

CAST

Richard Derr (Three In The Attic)
Larry Keating (Whirlpool)
Barbara Rush (It Came From Outer Space)
John Hoyt (Brute Force)
Peter Hansen (Petticoat Junction)
Hayden Rorke (Lucky Me)
Frank Cady (The Tin Star)
Rachel Ames (Gunfighters of Abilene)
Kirk Alyn (Atom Man vs Superman)
Paul Frees (The Millionaire)
Stuart Whitman (Superboy)

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Paid courier and pilot David Randall flies top-secret photographs from astronomer Dr. Emery Bronson to Dr. Cole Hendron. Hendron, with the assistance of his daughter Joyce, confirms their worst fears: Bronson has discovered that a rogue planet named Bellus is on a collision course with Earth. Due to a misunderstanding, Randall is included among those who have foreknowledge of the impending disaster.

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Hendron warns the United Nations that the end of the world is little more than eight months away. He pleads for the construction of spaceships to transport a lucky few to Zyra, the sole planet in orbit around Bellus, in the faint hope that some of the human race can be saved from extinction. Other equally distinguished scientists scoff at his claims, and he is not believed by the UN delegates.

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Hendron receives help from wealthy humanitarians, who arrange a lease on a former proving ground to construct an ark spaceship. To finance the construction, Hendron is forced to accept money from the self-centered, wheelchair-bound industrialist Sidney Stanton. Stanton demands the right to select the passengers, but Hendron insists that he is not qualified to make those choices; all he can buy is a seat aboard the ark.

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Joyce, attracted to Randall, prods her father into keeping him around, much to the annoyance of her boyfriend, Dr. Tony Drake. As Bellus nears, former skeptics admit that Hendron was right and governments prepare for the inevitable. Other groups begin to build spaceships in other nations. Martial law is declared before Bellus’ arrival, and residents in coastal regions are moved to inland cities.

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When Zyra makes its close approach, it causes massive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tidal waves that wreak havoc around the world. Several people are killed at the ark’s construction camp, including Dr. Bronson. Drake and Randall travel by helicopter to provide survivor assistance. When Randall leaves the helicopter to rescue a stranded little boy, Drake nearly abandons him but quickly accepts that Joyce has chosen Randall over him.

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As the day of doom approaches, the spaceship is loaded with food, medicine, microfiche copies of books, equipment, and animals. The lucky passengers are selected by lottery, though Hendron reserves seats for himself, Stanton, Joyce, Drake, pilot Dr. George Frey, the young boy who was rescued, and Randall, for his daughter’s sake. When a young man turns in his winning ticket because his sweetheart was not selected, Hendron arranges for both to go. Randall refuses his seat and only pretends to participate in the lottery, believing he has no skills needed for settling on Zyra. For Joyce’s sake, Drake fabricates a “heart condition” for Frey, making a co-pilot necessary.

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The cynical Stanton, knowing human nature, fears what the desperate lottery losers might do, so as a precaution, he has stockpiled weapons; Stanton’s suspicions prove to be well-founded. His much-abused assistant, Ferris, tries to add himself at gunpoint to the passenger manifest, only to be shot dead by Stanton. During their final night on Earth, the selected passengers and animals are quietly moved to the launch pad to protect them from more violence.

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Shortly before blast off, many of the lottery losers riot, taking up Stanton’s weapons to try to force their way aboard the ark. Hendron surprises everyone by staying behind at the last moment and forcibly keeps Stanton with him in order to conserve fuel for the flight to Zyra. With an effort born of ultimate desperation, Stanton stands up and tries to walk in a futile attempt to board the departing spaceship. The crew are rendered unconscious by the g-force of acceleration and do not witness on the forward monitor the Earth’s destruction by Bellus. When Randall comes to and sees Dr. Frey already awake and piloting the ship, he realizes he has been deceived. As the space ark enters Zyra’s atmosphere, the fuel finally runs out; Randall takes control of the spaceship, gliding to a rough but safe landing. Earth’s survivors begin to disembark, finding Zyra to be habitable. David Randall and Joyce Hendron follow, walking hand-in-hand down the ramp to explore an unknown but hopeful future.

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Overall, this “modern” Noah’s Ark story was a good one, and far, far better than your normal sci-fi flicks from the time period.

 

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REVIEW: SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE – THE EXPANDED CUT

CAST

Christopher Reeve (Rear Window)
Marlon Brando (The Godfather)
Margot Kidder (The Amityville Horror)
Gene Hackman (Heartbreakers)
Ned Beatty (Rango)
Jackie Cooper (The Champ)
Glenn Ford (The Long Ride Home)
Terence Stamp (Yes Man)
Trevor Howard (Gandhi)
Marc McClure (Back To The Future)
Sarah Douglas (Puppet Master III)
Jack O’Halloran (King Kong 1976)
Valerie Perrine (What Women Want)
Maria Schell (Inside The Third Reich)
Phyllis Thaxter (The Longest Night)
Susannah York (Visitors)
Jeff East (Pumpkinhead)
Kirk Alyn (Superman 1948)
Noel Neil (Adventures of Superman)
Larry Hagman (Dallas)

The expanded Superman film sees several new scenes that add to the fun and magic of the film.

  • Some added dialogue when Jor-El is talking with the council.
  • The council calls an “Executioner” to hunt and kill Jor-El to keep the rocket from launching.
  • Noel Neill and Kirk Alyn’s speaking cameos
  • Little girl sees Clark running faster than train, parents call her Lois Lane.
  • In the kitchen Martha Kent takes out a box of Cheerios.
  • After rescuing Air Force One Superman returns to Fortress of Solitude and has a conversation with his father.
  • In Metropolis when the news of Superman comes out, Clark is a spectator. A stranger (played by an uncredited Richard Donner) comments “that’ll be the day when a man can fly”; Clark grins.
  • While trying to get Luthor’s lair Superman goes through machine guns, flame throwers, ice machines with Luthor taunting on loudspeaker.
  • The sequence with the Girl Scouts.

REVIEW: SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE

 

CAST

Christopher Reeve (Rear Window)
Marlon Brando (The Godfather)
Margot Kidder (The Amityville Horror)
Gene Hackman (Heartbreakers)
Ned Beatty (Rango)
Jackie Cooper (The Champ)
Glenn Ford (The Long Ride Home)
Terence Stamp (Yes Man)
Trevor Howard (Gandhi)
Marc McClure (Back To The Future)
Sarah Douglas (Puppet Master III)
Jack O’Halloran (King Kong 1976)
Valerie Perrine (What Women Want)
Maria Schell (Inside The Third Reich)
Phyllis Thaxter (The Longest Night)
Susannah York (Visitors)
Jeff East (Pumpkinhead)
Kirk Alyn (Superman 1948)
Noel Neill (Adventures of Superman)
Larry Hagman (Dallas)

 

“You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly!” That was the tag-line for 1978’s blockbuster film Superman. Touting both the innovative special effects and the exciting nature of the film, this was enough to get an unapologetic comic book geek like myself into the theaters to see the movie. At the time I enjoyed the film, mostly. While I was very disappointed in the ending, the rest of the film was a great ride that got me back into the theater for a second look. Of course I hadn’t known about the arduous shooting or the conflicts between the producer and the director, but that only showed up on screen indirectly. It has been over a decade since I saw Superman: The Movie and I was afraid that it wouldn’t hold up as well as I had remembered it. While there are some dated parts, the movie still is a lot of fun.


The movie starts on Krypton, where Jor-El (Marlon Brando) is sentencing three villains led by the traitorous General Zod to an eternity of imprisonment in the Phantom Zone. After his task has been completed, the doomed man once again insists that Krypton is going to explode in a matter of days, only to have the council laugh at him once more. Returning home, the scientist puts the finishing touches on the space craft that will save his only son, Kal-El. He finishes just before the planet disintegrates and launches his son towards a distant planet called Earth.

Three years later the craft lands in the field of John (Glenn Ford) and Martha Kent (Phyllis Thaxter). They take the small tot who emerges and raise him as their own instilling a sense of honesty, truthfulness, and morality into the lad. They name him Clark and soon discover that he has “powers above and beyond those of mortal men,” and train him to hide these in order not to attract attention to himself.

Eventually Clark (Christopher Reeve) leaves home and goes to Metropolis. There he gets a job as a newspaper reporter alongside ace reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) and photographer Jimmy Olsen. When danger strikes however, Clark sheds his 50’s business suit to reveal the red and blue costume of Superman.

It’s not long before danger does strike. The criminal genius Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) has a plan to make himself incredibly wealthy. He has bought up a lot of desert land just east of the San Andreas fault, land that will be worth millions once the nuclear missiles Lex has reprogrammed detonate on the fault line and cause much of California to sink into the ocean. The only person who can stop this mad man is Superman, but Lex has thought about that too. This is a really fun movie in a lot of ways. Even though the Man of Steel’s origin is known to almost everyone, seeing it play out on film is really enjoyable. Watching a baby Clark hold up a pickup truck when the jack slips is sure to bring a smile to viewer’s faces, likewise the scene where Clark outruns the high school kids in a car who were teasing him. Superman’s first deeds in Metropolis are also highly enjoyable and keep the movie moving along at a good clip.

Christopher Reeve does a fantastic job as Clark Kent/Superman. He has Clark’s nebbish qualities down pat while still being impressive as Superman, a trick that few other actors can pull off. (Even George Reeves was never convincing as Clark in the old Adventures of Superman TV show.) Clark’s ‘just off the farm’ act comes across as being believable and not a parody.

The special effects stand up very well, even today. Though the flying sequences lack the “wow” factor they had nearly 30 years ago, they don’t look hokey and dated at all. Superman still looks realistic when flying and the other effects come across as natural too. There are one or two effects that don’t work that well, when Luthor freezes Superman in a block of ice for example, and it’s interesting to note that these were left out of the theatrical cut.

That said there are some aspects of the film that don’t work so well. The goofy sided kick is a bit is dated now, even as it was when the film was made. At one point Lex Luthor even wonders out loud when he surrounds himself with idiots, something the audience had been wondering for a while.

The reprogramming of the nuclear missiles was also something viewers have to take with a grain of salt. The fact that military officers would leave nukes unguarded is rather laughable. The fact that Lex’s idiotic sidekicks could reprogram them is even harder to swallow.

The worst aspect of the film is the ending, and it’s not really the director’s fault. Originally Richard Donner was supposed to direct the first two Superman films, and he managed to shoot much of the sequel while directing this first movie. This was the formula that the producers, the father and son team of Alexander and Ilya Salkind, had used with much success on the two Musketeer movies they made in the mid-seventies. For whatever reason, the constant fighting with the director or just getting cold feet, the Salkinds at the last minute decided not to end this first Superman film with a cliffhanger. Originally Superman was supposed have shot one rocket into space which explodes and released the Kryptonian criminals from the beginning of the movie. That would have worked much better than how the film currently ends.

REVIEW: ATOM MAN VS SUPERMAN

 

 

CAST

Kirk Alyn (When Worlds Collide)
Noel Neill (Music Man)
Tommy Bond (Five Little Peppers at Home)
Pierre Watkin (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)
Lyle Talbot (Batman & Robin 1948)
Jack Ingram (Man Without a Star)
Don C. Harvey (The Scarlet Coat)

Atom Man vs. Superman was a Columbia serial of 15 installments. It’s notable as the second live action version of Superman to hit the big screen. It’s penchant for campy sci-fi gadgetry was a precursor to the Silver Age. As with the 1948 Superman serial, the budget is quite low and the special effects have been added in as animation, though some improvements have been made – notably closeups of Superman with his hair and cape blowing while in flight. I like that the first episode, ‘Superman Flies Again’, wastes no time on Superman’s origin. It doesn’t even waste time introducing Luthor, even though he wasn’t in the first serial. It is mentioned that Luthor is Superman’s arch-enemy, but other than that it presumes you know who Superman and Luthor is before it begins – something the modern Superman film franchise could take note of. With the second episode, the series slips quite a bit. There are a number of plot holes (mostly concerning who has a special coin and who knows they have it), and there are several moments of bad acting. There’s a lot of use of gimmicky gadgets, and Atom Man himself looks kind of funny with a giant sparkly head mask. On the plus side, the effects are a bit better than in the last serial, with the film sped up in parts to make it look like Superman is moving at super speed. The ship rescue was a nice touch, showing that Superman still has other work to do besides fighting Atom Man.

The third episode keeps things moving, with Superman rescuing Lois from a fall from a skyscraper, putting out a blazing oil fire, rescuing Luthor from an assassination attempt, and saving Jimmy and Lois when their airplane becomes disabled. Though his part is small, the highlight of the episode is Lyle Talbot as Luthor, who is clearly the best actor in the series. And, even though he has a somewhat silly script to deal with, his portrayal of Luthor as a no-nonsense businessman may be the best ever, possibly even superior to Gene Hackman’s version in the 1978 film Superman.

The fourth episode is both good and bad – Superman rescues Lois and Jimmy in a perfunctory sequence, then they go back to the Daily Planet where they celebrate Lois’ birthday – only to have a fake gift transport her into the clutches of Atom Man. The episode has some great ideas – particularly Superman’s plan to get himself ‘captured’ to save Lois, but it seems to move from idea to idea too fast to capitalize on them.

The fifth episode is one of the best written episodes of the series. Superman enlists the help of the Daily Planet to post a fake news story about a shipment of plutonium – a material Atom Man needs for his plans – as a trap. But Luthor is too smart for this and turns the tables, sending a henchman into the trap to be captured and interrogated – thus revealing information about a secret package at the check room at Central Station, knowing that Superman would go there and investigate, inspecting all the packages with X-Ray vision. And leaving an inert material that converts to plutonium when subjected to X-Rays, allowing Luthor to get his hands on actual plutonium!

The sixth episode has a lot of things that really annoy me. There is an appalling lack of understanding of science – in addition to the X-ray vision turning the alloy nails into plutonium – and they just open up the box and look at them with no protection, there is the part where Luthor teleports a henchman wearing just a business suit into outer space, then brings him back a couple minutes later just fine. Later Luthor decides he now needs radium, and so he plans to steel it from a reduction plant. A little of this could be excused by the era, maybe it wasn’t yet common knowledge that space is a vacuum, but it really seems they didn’t even try to be respectful of science.

There’s also a lot of ridiculous plot and action points, for example, Lois escaping some thugs by throwing powder in their faces, the bad guys getting radium from a hospital safe by just asking for it and showing no credentials, the reduction plant having a vault that has a lethal gas booby trap, and Jimmy driving right onto a bombing range (no fence, gate, guard or anything) and there happening to be a bomber on a test run to drop a bomb right on him. There are a few good points in this one too, though. Lyle Talbot’s Luthor is particularly devious – when his henchmen fail him he threatens to sentence one to the vast doom of space and asks them who it will be, then when one of the men volunteers, he says that he’s brave – and then he chooses to sentence the other one instead. Also, unlike most of the chapters where all the Superman special effects are animated, this one actually has a pretty realistic looking scene of Kirk Allen overturning a villain’s car and then ripping out the engine and using it to bar the upright door from opening.

Episode 7 is a great episode – as the rough halfway point, it acts as a summary on Superman. Lex Luthor reveals that he acquired the records of Jor-El’s final pleas. In something that has been copied and re-used in many times in Superman stories since, we find out that Lex Luthor knows more about Superman’s origins than Superman himself. It also has the added twist on the end of Krypton that the planet-wide upheaval was caused by a decaying orbit – a pretty good science based explanation for the time. This is accomplished quite deftly in this episode by using a lot of found footage including natural disaster footage, and clips from the original Superman Serial.

The eighth episode provides something of a twist: we finally learn what exactly the ’empty doom’ is – it’s not so much a place (though it could involve displacement in space as well), so much as it’s a form of incorporealness. Superman is unable to affect the physical world. Though he does somehow manage to find a way to send Lois and Jimmy a message via her typewriter (possibly because it’s electric). There’s a lot of unexplained stuff, from how he types, to what is the empty doom, to more mundane things like why does everyone willingly stand under Luthor’s main arc without restraints, and what exactly does Lois keep in her purse that enables her to club thugs unconscious with it… but overall, the fantasy elements of this episode are a nice change of pace, even as poorly explained as they are.

Episode 9, ‘Superman Crashes Through’ takes things too far. In addition to the profound misunderstanding of outer space which I’ve been able to excuse up to this point, we also discover that Luthor’s synthetic kryptonite doesn’t work when exposed to air, and when Superman finally manages to get the drop on Atom Man, it turns out to be just an Atom Man robot. Things get better in the second half, but not enough to save this installment. Episode 10: ‘Atom Man’s Heat Ray’, despite its title, isn’t as grandiose as you might suspect. The heat ray itself is a small device Luthor’s men use to make the doorknob to a payroll truck too hot to touch after they’ve trapped some patsies in it. Storywise, this is a pretty good episode, but there are a few really dumb bits in it. At the start of the episode, Jimmy gets his foot stuck in a railroad tie, just as a train happens to be coming, necessitating rescue by Superman. In another part of the episode, Lois catches Clark coming in through a window (after having made an appearance as Superman), and the best thing he can think to cover his tracks is that he “just woke up” on the window ledge. But on the whole it’s a better than average episode, and even Jimmy gets to punch out a bad guy.

I liked episode 11 for a lot of the subtle attention to details. Luthor holds a press conference, and from the way his office is decorated, one can see that he is a man that likes/admires horses. Later when Lois is reporting with her TV crew on a flood, the camera they are using is not a mere prop – she asks for a closer view and the camera man rotates lenses. It’s subtle touches like these that make some episodes, such as this one, just a little better than average. The flood itself is a mixture of stock footage and models that cuts together better in some places than others, but once again it’s good to see Superman in action saving lives rather than just fighting bad guys.

Episode 12 is a fairly good episode, most of the characters behave in intelligent ways (except perhaps Lois in covering the flood – but risk-taking is normal for reporters and it’s not out of character), and the acting is actually pretty good. Lyle Talbot’s reaction as Luthor to a pad being stolen from his office, for example, is very well played. This episode also features one of the smoothest transitions between Kirk Allyn in costume, and the animated Superman, right on screen (rather than the usual Clark ducking behind a rock and emerging as Superman type thing). There is a sense that the series is finally starting to come to a climax.

Luthor’s pseudoscience gimmicks come fast and furious in Episode 13. Heat rays, death rays, camera devices that see everywhere, flying saucers that for all their sophistication are just used as ramming devices. Pretty much all science and logic goes out the window this episode, but at least it’s counterbalanced by the feeling that things are moving toward a climax.

Luthor pulls out all the stops in Episode 14, ‘Rocket of Vengeance’. He attacks Clark and Lois’ plane with a Flying Saucer, attacks Metropolis by means of his perennial favorite tool: an earthquake, orders Superman shot with an Atomic Projector, and finally launches a missile strike on Metropolis. As you can see, at this point the series has been reduced to gimmick-after-gimmick, thankfully everything will resolve in the fifteenth episode.

Like most serials, the final installment is a bit more exciting than the others, but overall the series maintains a pretty even level, unlike a feature film which steadily builds to a climax. The title of Episode 15, ‘Superman Saves the Universe’ may be a bit of hyperbole; by this time Luthor is on the run, and the biggest threat he makes is against one city (Metropolis) on Earth, never mind anyplace else in the universe. It’s overall pretty good though, a full plate of action that makes the episode seem to fly by faster than the previous ones. It should be noted that Kirk Allyn, though his performance throughout is  he generally does a pretty good job as Superman, but the real standout in the cast is Lyle Talbot as Luthor, who does an excellent job of providing a down-to-earth performance, even amid a plot that is rife with over-the-top gadgets and gimmicks.

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REVIEW: SUPERMAN (1948)

CAST

Kirk Alyn (When Worlds Collide)
Noel Neill (Music Man)
Tommy Bond (Five Little Peppers at Home)
Carol Forman (Blackhawk)
George Meeker (Road to Rio)
Jack Ingram (The Cisco Kid)
Pierre Watkin (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)

we are taking a look at the big blue boy scout’s first attempt on the film screen. That’s right, it’s time to take a look at the first Superman movie serial starring Kirk Alyn. Released in 1948 by Columbia Pictures, the serial was produced by Sam Katzman who produced many film serials starring superheros (and just about every single one I’ve reviewed so far) and contains Kirk Alyn as Clark Kent / Superman.

The serial stays very much true to the origin of Kal-El being launched from Krypton by his father Jor-El, but the only differences are that Jor-El is portrayed as more of a villain that actually caused the destruction of Krypton because of his science experiments and even considered using his son in a prototype rocket to see if it could carry a Kryptonian into space. So the story goes like you remember, Kal-El’s rocket arrives on Earth, the Kent’s pick him up, they take the blanket he was in and made a costume for him out of it when he gets old enough to be a reporter and so on. The plot of the serial is okay, but the only problem is that Superman finds out he is from Krypton for no apparent reason because the rocket he was in explodes mere seconds after Pa Kent rescues him from it thus destroying almost any evidence that he was from the planet Krypton other than the blanket. This is later explained when a meteor from the destroyed planet of Krypton lands on Earth and is discovered by Dr. Leeds who somehow knows it’s from Krypton and thus calls it Kryptonite. Of course, this rock affects Superman and its his Achilles heel throughout the whole serial. At the same time a scientist named Dr. Graham invents a machine that creates natural reducer rays that create a beam that can harness enough energy to trigger an atomic blast. Of course if you saw any of the superhero serials that we review on this website it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there is going to be a villain that is going to steel the device.

That villain or should I say villainess is The Spider Lady, played by actress Carol Forman who also played the villainess Laska in the movie serial Blackhawk also starring Kirk Alyn. The Spider Lady wants to steal the machine in order to rule the underworld and later learns that Superman is helpless against Kryptonite, so she figures that she could combine the Kryptonite with the device in order for it to officially kill Superman. The way she finds out about the Kryptonite is earlier in the serial when Clark reveals his identity to Dr. Leeds after the discovery of the Kryptonite and is overheard by one of Leeds’ assistants who decides to make some money by offering the information to The Spider Lady for some money.

The majority of the serial revolves around Clark working for the Daily Planet while Lois and Jimmy get into trouble until Superman bails them out. One thing I enjoy about the serial is that most of the action scenes don’t involve long take fist fights and instead focuses on Superman using his powers. One thing that gets really annoying is the fact that the filmmakers use Kryptonite almost every time when they film Superman in an action scene in order to make a decent buildup to the cliffhanger at the end of the episode. It gets old and tiring really fast but when you’re the man of steel, it’s hard to lose to two-bit thugs.

Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill do a great job of portraying Clark/Superman and Lois respectively, bringing a lot of tension and chemistry to the characters and some childish antics between the two. One of the best parts of the serial is the fact that Lois always tries to trump Clark in his stories but ends up getting saved by Superman AND also having her story stolen by Clark as a way for some type of reward for Clark. One of the reasons why Kirk does such a great job is that he adds a touch of Smallville to the Clark Kent/Superman character in that he adds that young charming farm kid-like attitude towards the character. He’s just so bright and chipper that you really feel he’s this kid from the Midwest really trying to make it in the big city and he stands out from the rest of the characters, and it’s not because he has super powers. Noel Neill even brings a feisty attitude to Lois that still resonates today in the comic book and you feel that she really nails the part of Lois.

Now before I end this review, I feel that I should probably voice my opinion on the flight scenes portrayed by Superman in the serial. If you don’t know, many fans of Superman are generally disappointed by the serial because of the fact that Kirk Alyn does not fly in the serial but is in fact, replaced by a cartoon every time he goes to fly. Even before I saw the serial for the first time, it took me years to finally stir enough interest to watch due to the fact that the only thing I heard about it was that the flight scenes suck because Superman doesn’t actually fly. To be honest, it doesn’t really bother me that much. Don’t get me wrong, I would have much preferred to see Kirk Alyn being yanked on a harness uncomfortably than seeing a cartoon,(because we already have the Fleischer cartoons for that) but the animation is okay and it is a little neat to see the animators splice the footage in with the live action scenes. Supposedly Kirk Alyn was supposed to wear a harness in order to film some flight scenes but later complained that it was really uncomfortable and Katzman did not like the test footage, so instead found it cheaper to fire the special effects team created to do the flight scenes and instead hired animators.

Despite all of its shortcomings, Superman is still a great serial to watch mostly due to its great cast and special effects throughout the whole production. The costume on Kirk Alyn looks good and the serial doesn’t rely on fist fights for their action scenes and still manages to pull off a few good cliffhangers. So if you got a couple of hours to kill and if you don’t mind a flying cartoon Superman, then I would give this serial a watch